What is the relationship existing between phonemes and allophones?

1 Answer | Add Yours

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Phonemes and allophones are both component parts of speech sounds. Phonemes are related to speech meaning while allophones are related to speech realizations, or enunciations. The primary relationship between phonemes and allophones is that phonemes become spoken language when allophones are enunciated. In contrast, they become written language when organized in meaningful constructs within a meaningful language system, such as a dialect or standardized language.

Another relationship between phonemes and allophones is a reverse relationship. The same or similar allophones (enunciations, realizations) of a phoneme occur in many languages. For example dark / l /, as in milk, occurs in English, Gaelic and Turkish. However, dark / l / indicates a phoneme of meaning only in Gaelic and Turkish; it indicates no meaning in English. In other words, if you pronounce "bell" with a dark / l / or a light one in English, the meaning does not change. Take another example: the allophone / s / occurs in English and Japanese. In English it indicates a phoneme of meaning, as in shoe(s), horse(s) and shout(s), while in Japanese / s / relates to no phonetic meaning regardless of the allophonic realization.

[Examples drawn from "English Phonology: Lecture 1: Phonemes and Allophones; Describing English Sounds." Barış Kabak, Ph.D. Department of Linguistics, University of Konstanz, Germany.]

We’ve answered 317,950 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question